LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - Laurel is nearly 140 years old, and it’s known as the City Beautiful. But, two of its founders, who were lumber mill owners, didn’t think the city was so pretty back then and didn’t want it named after them.
“There were two owners of the mill at that time, a Mr. Kamper and Mr. Louin,” said Bill Thames, a retired attorney and amateur historian from Laurel. “Laurel at that time was a very, very primitive lumber mill and very, very primitive town. But, neither one wanted to have the town named after them, because it was that bad, the community was that bad.”
So, the founders named the town for the mountain laurel, a type of shrub that grew wild in the area. The problem was, the mountain laurel was poisonous to livestock, so most of the plants were destroyed.
“We killed all the laurel bushes. There are no more laurel bushes naturally in Laurel,” Thames said.
Some can be found in town these days, however. A few laurels have been planted in backyard gardens, and there may be others growing in local parks.
Laurel is not only known as the City Beautiful, it’s also recognized for some notable inventions.
The Lindsey Log Wagon, invented by Laurel’s John Lindsey around 1900, revolutionized the early timber industry by making it possible to haul timber out of swampy areas.
Another revolutionary product invented in Laurel was Masonite, a type of hardboard. It was patented in 1924.
Its inventor, William H. Mason, was a friend and protege’ of Thomas Edison.
“(Mason) was experimenting, and one day, he went off to lunch and he came back and had forgot to turn the experiment off and he baked the first piece of Masonite,” said Thames. “It was an accident, but you know, sometimes accidents can be wonderful things, and Masonite kept this town afloat after the timber era played out.”
Thames said Mason originally came to Laurel to find a use for the piles of sawdust produced by the town’s lumber mills.